ESTERO, Fla. — In a game where the Florida Everblades and Newfoundland Growlers played more than 53 minutes of scoreless hockey, Giorgio Estephan found the game-winning goal with only 6:40 to play in the third period to give the Growlers a 1-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals with a 2-0 win at Hertz Arena on Friday night.
With the ‘Blades pressing for the game-tying goal in the last minute, Newfoundland’s Scott Pooley scored on an empty with 14 seconds left to seal the win for the Growlers.
The Growlers almost scored with six minutes to play in the first period with a delayed penalty coming to the ‘Blades. Hudson Elyniuk grabbed the puck in the slot and went in behind the net for a wraparound on the opposite side. But he put it right along the goal line, and Florida goaltender Callum Booth got a piece of it to keep the game scoreless.
The ‘Blades had three quality scoring chances within the first three minutes of the second period, but they were unable to get it through the sea of Growlers players in front of Newfoundland netminder Michael Garteig on any of their shots. Following an initial chance from Grant Arnold, Tommy Thompson picked up the puck and threw it off the pads of Garteig to Perkovich in the same spot. Perkovich wristed another shot toward the net and it deflected off a Growlers player back to Riley Weselowski. Weselowksi’s shot once again deflected off a Growlers player just wide of the left corner of the net.
The Growlers broke the scoreless tie after almost 53 minutes of scoreless hockey. At 13:20 of the third, on the backend of a long shift for the ‘Blades, Josh Kestner stole the puck as Justin Auger was trying to clear the zone. He sent a pass to Estephan, who was alone in the slot, and he fired a wrist shot past the blocker of Booth for the goal.
Despite the loss, Booth was arguably the best player on the ice for the ‘Blades, stopping all but one of the 30 shots he faced. He has allowed less than two goals in five of his eight playoff starts.
Garteig stopped all 32 shots he faced to earn his first shutout of the postseason.
Florida will aim to knot the series at one win apiece when the two teams battle in Game 2 on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Hertz Arena.
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